Midnight – “Yongary, Monster from the Deep” – Science Fiction
(1967, Kino Lorber) Bomb tests in an unnamed Middle Eastern country sets off a chain of quakes, including one that upon reaching South Korea, unleashes a huge, saurian creature with a taste for mass destruction and crude oil. The Korean military is quickly routed, prompting a national paroxysm of end-times binge consumption: salarymen gorge themselves on food, teenagers dance and drink themselves to death. But in classic kaiju eiga fashion, a precocious young boy discovers the monster’s weakness, which leads to a showdown between Yongary and the film’s astronaut hero. One of the few ‘60s-era South Korean fantasy/science fiction films to make it to American shores, “Yongary” aired in semi-regular rotation on Saturday afternoon and late-night creature feature broadcasts as part of American International Pictures’ syndicated TV package. And if the film’s intended audience – nine-year-old giant monster fans like me – found the special effects (by Daiei Film, which also created Gamera) somewhat lacking, “Yongary” still provided enough scenes of city destruction, along with a few quirks – a light ray that causes intense itching, and a sequence in which Yongary does a lumbering frug along to a Group Sounds-style instro rock number – to make it a satisfying stand-in when Godzilla wasn’t part of the weekly programming. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray presents “Yongary” in a widescreen presentation of the American dub, which according to the excellent commentary by historian Steve Ryfle and Korean writer Kim Song-ho, is the only complete version of the film in existence – the original Korean version is apparently lost, though a surviving 48-minute chunk of can be found here. The commentary also touches on the film’s sizable budget (by 1960s South Korean standards) and a hint of political subtext that runs through the film, which attempts to portray South Korea as a world power capable of handling a giant monster, and not a country still rebuilding a decade after a major war. Trailers for “The Monster That Challenged the World” and Joe Dante’s commentary on “The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues” (see below) from Trailers From Hell round out the disc.
1:30 a.m. – “The House Where Evil Dwells” – Horror
(1982, Scream Factory) Standard issue haunted house story enlivened (a bit) by its Japanese setting. American writer Edward Albert, newly arrived in Japan with wife Susan George and daughter Amy Barrett, accepts an offer from diplomat pal Doug McClure to move into a roomy old house with very low rent. The bargain price is a result of its past history: a 19th century samurai murdered his wife and her lover while in flagrante delicto before taking his own life in the house, and the trio have lingered there ever since to make trouble for new occupants. The special effects used to materialize the ghosts – a old slight-of-hand trick with camera angles and mirrors known as the Schufftan process – allows for some interesting visuals, and the final showdown between the living and the dead has a go-for-broke energy lacking from the rest of the picture. But the rest of the interactions between guests and ghosts have little shock value (save for one inexplicable sequence in which spectral crabs pursue Barrett), leaving only a few lashes of gore to maintain interest for the most omnivorous trashfilm consumers. Director Kevin Conner oversaw the wonderful black comedy-horror “Motel Hell” and a slew of agreeable low-budget fantasy-adventures, including “At the Earth’s Core” and “The Land That Time Forgot,” in his native England. Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint pairs “House” with the Charles Band-produced “Ghost Warrior,” about a 400-year-old samurai revived in modern day Los Angeles. Trailers for both movies round out the disc.
3:00 a.m. – “Phantom from 10,000 Leagues” – Horror/Science Fiction
(1955, Kino Lorber) A mysterious sea creature is preying on fishermen off Paradise Cove in Malibu; government man Kent Taylor suspects that the “phantom” is somehow connected to marine biologist Michael Whalen and his experiments with uranium. Saddled with a miniscule budget ($75,000 – a miserly sum for a feature, even by Eisenhower-era rates) and a ridiculous monster, editors-turned-writers/directors Dan and Jack Milner attempt to cover their deficits under a pile of loose story threads and subplots involving atomic mutations, Communist spies, traitorous lab assistants and Whalen’s secretary (Vivi Janiss), who’s up to… something. The add-ons only confuse matters in a picture already hobbled by dreadful dialogue and glacial pacing; as such, “Phantom” will probably be best appreciated by camp/cult/badfilm completists, though its wonky non-logic is perfectly suited for insomniacs, light sleepers and all those on late night and early morning movie viewing shifts (which I wholly advocate). Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Richard Harland Smith, who provides detailed historical context on the production and cast, along with the “Monster That Challenged the World” and “Phantom” trailers featured on the “Yongary” disc.
4:30 a.m. “The Strangler” – Thriller
(1964, Warner Archives Collection) Character actor Victor Buono’s unsettling, Oscar-nominated turn in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” led to this rare star billing as a mild-mannered hospital lab worker whose hatred/obsession with his overbearing mother (Ellen Corby) spurs him to strangle women. Director Burt Topper mixes stylish touches – a nod to “Psycho” at the film’s opening with an extreme close-up of Buono’s unblinking eye, in which we see reflected a prospective victim dressing for bed – with whiffs of exploitation, like Buono fondling kewpie dolls after each murder, or psychiatrist Russ Bender (a Topper mainstay) discussing fetishes with ulcer-ridden detective David McLean. Mostly, “The Strangler” is a slicker, more atmospheric take on the down-and-dirty crime stories that producers Samuel Bischoff and David Diamond were making at the tail end of their careers, like “The Phenix City Story.” Buono reins in his tendency towards overripe theatricality (see: King Tut on “Batman,” Count Mazeppa on “Wild, Wild West,” etc) here, playing instead a man trying desperately to keep his explosive side hidden; he’s terrific, bringing pathos and creepiness in equal measure, and anchors the picture when it threatens to tip into pulp territory. Buono’s role was based loosely on Albert De Salvo, the Boston Strangler, who was still at large while this film went to theaters (its original title was, in fact, “The Boston Strangler”). Following his arrest in 1967, De Salvo was incarcerated at the state maximum security prison, MCI Cedar Junction, which is located in my home town of Walpole, Massachusetts.
6 a.m. – “Dungeonmaster” – Horror/Fantasy
(1985, Scream Factory) Role-playing game enthusiasts take note: aside from a few TSR-styled creatures, “Dungeonmaster” bears no resemblance to “Dungeons & Dragons” (the film’s original title was “Ragewar”) or any sword-and-sorcery game, for that matter (there isn’t even a dungeon). Instead, we get computer programmer Jeffrey Byron, whose inordinate affection for his computer – which can interface with any electronic device and converses in a sultry, Quiet-Storm DJ voice – troubles girlfriend Leslie Wing but proves useful when they are both abducted by Mestema (Richard Moll, a.k.a. Bull on “Night Court”). The villain, whom, we discover is Satan himself, has taken Wing captive, and to win her back, Byron and his computer – which is transformed into a sort of medieval Power Glove – must undertake a series of seven trials. From there, “Dungeonmaster” spins into an anthology format, with each trial handled by a different director from the stable of producer Charles Band’s Empire Pictures, including John Carl Buechler (“Troll”), Ted Nicolaou (“TerrorVision”) and Band himself. The seven segments feature plenty of low-budget monsters – Byron faces zombies, a rock giant designed by stop-motion animation legend David Allen, a cave troll and the metal band W.A.S.P. (!) – but run no more than a few minutes apiece (the entire film clocks in at 73 minutes), which gives the impression that one is watching either a special effects demo reel or a monster-happy teenager’s homemade compilation of fight and fright clips. It’s all pretty silly, but should please fans of Empire’s output of direct-to-VHS oddities like “Puppet Master” and “Ghoulies,” or those with an abiding interest in early ‘80s Ur-technology. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray pairs “Dungeonmaster” with Peter Manoogian’s enjoyable pulp sci-fi adventure “Eliminators” (which we’ll review at a later date); Manoogian also helmed the “Cave Beast” segment in “Dungeonmaster,” and discusses both projects in a lengthy interview segment included on the disc.